Mothers essential, fathers optional

Mother's Day is justifiably a big deal. My Mum is very important to me and very dear to me. Why does Father's Day seem so trivial by comparison?

Perhaps the mother's work is greater than the father's.  For a mother, having a child involves hard labour, a toil in which she gifts the three precious bodily fluids: blood, sweat and tears. A father for his part gives up a half a teaspoon of seminal fluid in a too-brief, but happy moment.

Given the effort required of a mother to birth and raise children, it is not surprising then that many religions and many cultures set aside a time to honour the mother. Mother's Day, or more generally the celebration of motherhood has a long history stretching back to Greek and Roman times at least. Mothering Sunday is recognised in many Christian religions on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Not bad for the patriarchy to do this either given that it is so often viewed as not honouring women. Perhaps this is the way that the patriarchy 'makes up' for wielding so much power. By acknowledging the tremendous gifts of women, and especially through motherhood, the patriarchy seeks to make amends with their womenfolk.

Nonetheless, what of the father? Even though the 5th commandment tells us that we should honour our father and our mother, many religions reserve much less praise for the father than for the mother. For instance, Catholics worship 'Our Lady', the holy Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Her icon is seen in many Catholic and orthodox Christian churches. Even though it might be noted that worshipping images of Mary could be argued to contravene the 1st and/or 2nd commandment which forbids the worship of other gods and making of idols.

Where is the praise for Joseph, the father of Jesus? Or at least, is the alleged father if we are to agree that Jesus is descended from David (as reported in two out of the four gospels, Matthew and Luke).

Perhaps Joseph was not the father. Many believe that Jesus was born of an immaculate conception. His father therefore was God. But if this is true, then he cannot have descended in a patrilineal line traced from David. Interestingly, the notion of a virgin birth is suggested in only two of the four gospels. Surprisingly, the same two that say he is descended from David. Not always easy to say who the dad is, is it? Is it this doubt that limits our praise for fathers?

What of Father's Day? The celebration of Father's Day has a much shorter history than Mother's Day having been first celebrated in West Virginia in 1908 and independently in Washington state in 1910. It is interesting that it was established in both instances by women. Thank you.

In addition to having a short history, it has from the outset been satirized and considered laughable. For instance, one suggestion for a flower to commemorate Father's Day was the dandelion. The reason? Because 'the more it is trampled, the more it grows.'

As if the celebration of Father's Day was not already tenuous enough, 100 years after it was first celebrated, some were actively trying to eliminate it. In June 2008, several councils in Scotland banned thousands of primary school children from making Father's Day cards "for fear of embarrassing classmates who live with single mothers and lesbians." The initiative was adopted "in the interests of sensitivity" to the growing number of single parent homes.

Single parent homes or not, there must have been an 'other parent'. By the by, I say 'other parent', but I mean father. The term 'single parent home' was a euphemism for single-mother homes. The policy did not extend to prohibiting the making of gifts and cards for Mother's Day.

The real problem is that the growing number of single mother homes should be encouraged to not acknowledge the father. What? The homes where a mother wishes the children to not acknowledge the father are perhaps those where it is most important to do so.

In fairness, it must be acknowledged that men themselves are not generally strong supporters of Father's Day. Many seem to be affronted by the celebration of Father's Day or treat it as something of a joke. My Father refuses to be acknowledged on Father's Day. As a father myself, I can perhaps guess at the reasons why.

At one level, I hate the over-commercialisation of so many holidays and special events. Christmas, Easter, St Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Halloween are all holy days that have lost much of their connection to their original religious roots. Cards that wish people a 'Happy Easter' are roughly equivalent to giving funeral-goers 'Happy Funeral' cards! Father's Day does not have any holy origins. To give it formal recognition can therefore be seen to profane the sanctity of Mother's Day with its origin in many religious calendars.

However, just because it is not holy does not mean that it is not important. Even if religion were to disappear entirely, I would think it appropriate to honour my mother and my father. Indeed, there is no reason why mothers or fathers should be acknowledged on only one day in the year. Putting it on the calendar is a useful reminder – just in case I forgot at other times.

Perhaps the reluctance of men is around the display of sentimentality and affection. While gift-giving may not be a man's strong point, gift-receiving is possibly his nadir.

Maybe the real problem is the nature of the 'gift'. I am not comfortable receiving gifts. Rather, I would like to see any acknowledgment customised to the person – or more specifically, to the man. I may not like gifts, but I love to get a hand-written note, a small token, even some spoken words. "Thanks Dad for all you have given me."

Men and women are not equal, but they deserve equal billing. Mother's Day and Father's Day are not equal, but they are complements. Both a mother and a father are needed to have a child. Just as the father's contributions to supporting and raising children are different from the mother's, so the preferences of each for acknowledgment might differ too. Different, but equal.

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